Resources  >> Instant Guru: 3 Branding Models that Stand Out In Crowded Markets

About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  November 01, 2011

Instant Guru: 3 Branding Models that Stand Out In Crowded Markets

Originally published for RainToday.com

In the age of the Internet, everyone has an expert opinion and ways to share it. How do you establish yourself as a thought leader in a sea of bright people who have strong points of view? Here are three ways that help you stand out in crowded markets.

Option 1: Voice of a Demographic

As a society, we have become so polarized, and as a result we want to gather with like-minded people. If you can be the spokesperson for a group who doesn’t feel heard, you’ll get the spotlight. Media personalities have done this for year, and now business thought leaders can apply this best practice.

The Focus: Color commentary.

Killer Tactic: Point out the injustice or absurdities this group faces every day. Give a voice to what people are thinking but can’t say out loud.

Great For: Media columnists and popular bloggers. Provide observational insights and humor on conditions we care about.

Don’t Do If: You don’t have consistent third-party access to your demographic. Folks have to be exposed to your views often, so a broad-based media platform such as Inc. and Fortune is best.

Downside Risks: Two things can bog you down here. First is the “get famous or bust” scenario. This path is very media-centric, so it could be a long, hard slog before you get momentum and attention. Second is the “fame without fortune” trap. Make sure you know how to monetize your efforts.

Role Models: Rush Limbaugh for conservatives, Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert cartoons) for geeks in cubicles.

Option 2: Leader of a Movement

Buyers like causes for two reasons. First, causes give them clarity about what the expert provides and how to use their perspective. Second, it makes the thought leader a “messenger” for a bigger cause that the market can adopt. And the media loves causes and campaigns. They promote engagement and interaction in social media.

The Focus: An idea or cause.

Killer Tactic: Diagnose the problem or situation your buyer wasn’t aware of and then offer tactics that meet the challenge head on. A close second is to redefine the journey. Example: Jim Collins, author of GOOD TO GREAT: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, explained why the path from good to great was not the result of a big innovation but of a series of smaller, right things done at the right time. He then offered 10 factors that would facilitate the new journey.

Great For: Consultants and coaches who work with larger organizations. It’s also good for people who are passionate about a specific cause, as well as those who have plenty of practical advice and tips.

Don’t Do If: You are better at skimming a variety of topics or find that drilling down on a topic is too tedious or limiting. This option is also not good if you want to appeal to a wide variety of buyers.

Downside Risks: The biggest mistake concerns the scope of the cause. If the cause is too narrow, buyers will see you as a “one-hit wonder” and assume that they know everything you have to offer. But if the cause is too big, you will appear nondescript.

Role Models: Marcus Buckingham on using our strengths, Jim Collins on the journey from good to great.

Option 3: Original Thinking

Have you ever met someone who sees the world in a unique way? Buyers will follow thought leaders who they think have a different take on the world. They will want that guru’s opinion on a wide variety of issues related to a central theme. Buyers don’t expect original research; they are enamored with how the experts interpret the case studies, the research, etc.

The Focus: Interpretation and communication style.

Killer Tactic: Great rhetorical questions that generate interest. Then combine unrelated stories, research, and case studies to create insights.

Great For: Thought leaders with hidden high-end access or great writing style. It’s also good for folks who can aggregate research and stories from a wide variety of fields. It’s the best path for more general brands built for business mass markets, such as career development.

Don’t Do If: Your communication style is nondescript. People will think you are smart, but they won’t know why and don’t have time to figure it out. You also need a central theme. For example, Thomas Freidman focuses on international issues and how the U.S. plays in the world. This theme gives him a wide enough berth to address a larger scope of issues, but it’s specific enough to create market expectations.

Downside Risks: It’s tempting to cover a wide variety of issues. Make sure you have a clear central theme so that you don’t appear scattered. You also need a hefty marketing machine to get your thinking out there.

Role Models: Dr. Phil on navigating life and family, Thomas Freidman on international issues.

Insights Are Not Enough

Throwing relevant, insightful content on the walls of the Internet is no longer enough. Thought leaders are now being defined by how they focus their brilliance into something buyers can immediate recognize and want. Decide which option is best for you, and use the model to decide how to create and distribute your content. Be consistent, and the spotlight will find–and stay–on you.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.